Bill Foreman appeared to have avoided a pet owner’s nightmare earlier this year when his chocolate Labrador, Biggie, underwent surgery to repair a herniated spinal disc.
Medication eased the recovery for Biggie, who will be 10 in June, but the Montecito pet owner’s fears were stoked further when the friendly pooch was weaned off medicine and one day couldn’t summon the strength to stand up.
With Biggie’s handicap apparent, Foreman took his family dog to HydroPaws, a Santa Barbara rehabilitation center for animals he had heard about from his daughter.
Thirty days in, and Biggie has already made tremendous progress in relearning the basics to get back to his fun-loving, old self.
“He’s getting a lot stronger. It’s like night and day from a month ago,” Foreman told Noozhawk. “What they’re doing there for him, I can see the progress. It’s coming (back) to him.”
Foreman credits the transformation to caring and concerned staff in the emerging animal-rehabilitation field.
Biggie’s rehab results are exactly why veterinarian Dr. Dave Dawson decided six years ago to establish HydroPaws, which is located at the rear of the San Roque Pet Hospital at 3034 State St.
The doggy rehab center, which also caters to cats, has the area’s only certified canine rehabilitation therapist in Karen Atlas. The Santa Barbara native spent 10 years administering physical therapy to humans in Ventura before coming to HydroPaws four years ago.
“I adopted a dog that had a lameness,” Atlas said of her sudden interest in four-legged patients. “I didn’t know anything about canine anatomy.”
Although Teddy, a Samoyed golden retriever mix, has since passed, Atlas is still devoted to helping animals ranging from athletes to domestics, most of which are recovering from injuries of the hip, knee or the dog version of the ACL.
Atlas said she and her staff of two — rounded out by rehab assistants Jillian Lake and Kaylene Wagner — help animals through gait training on an underwater treadmill, ground exercises, electric muscle stimulation, ultrasound and laser therapies, and “all the bells and whistles” of regular physical therapy.
All animals must have veterinarian referrals and medical clearance to participate.
“(Teddy) made quite an impact on my life and now on a lot of other lives,” Atlas said. “It’s a new field. I think it will eventually become a standard in care for dogs.”
Most dog owners bring their pets in for hour-long appointments, while others, including Biggie, can board with HydroPaws during the day or for several days.
Foreman, who drops Biggie off weekday mornings and picks him up after work, said he and Atlas are hopeful his dog will be well enough to stop rehab in July.
“I think the interaction there has been really good for his recovery,” Foreman said. “I feel very comfortable bringing Biggie there because I know he’s getting well taken care of.”